Making the hybrid working model a success

Hybrid or flexible working, where employees split their time between the office and home, is increasingly popular worldwide. Deploying it, however, isn’t as easy as it sounds. In addition to a significant cultural shift and well-thought-out strategy, it demands a re-think of the digital and physical workspace.

The UK government released its consultation on making flexible working default in December 2022. It includes making the right to request flexible working on day one. The Work-Life Balance Directive, which looks to enhance flexible working arrangements for employees, entered European Union law back in 2019 and must be adopted by Member States. Local laws to comply with the directive had to be in place by August 2022. According to research by McKinsey, 58% of Americans can work from home at least one day a week, and 87% of them take it.

The workplace is going through a major transformation, creating significant challenges for enterprises. According to analyst Gartner, the top three hurdles when setting out a strategy for a hybrid workforce are: adjusting the current corporate culture to accommodate flexible working, providing management with the right skills to manage staff, and upskilling leaders to lead in this modern approach to the workspace.

In addition, the workspace experience must be re-designed to allow for work inside and outside the office, together with a digital workspace initiative roadmap. This is not a one-off exercise because technology is continually evolving, and so is the workspace.

Flexible working is no longer a temporary response

The most successful organizations, according to Gartner, view hybrid working as a positive opportunity, not a disruption. They are finding new drivers within the hybrid work environment to create a culture of connectedness and develop appropriate leadership skills. This includes working with employees to help them discover their personal value and helping teams to identify key moments in face-to-face meetings.

But there is still much work to be done for many organizations. According to Gartner, 49% of HR leaders do not have an explicit future of work strategy. Embracing workplace transformation is paramount if businesses are to become more resilient and make the most of opportunities in the digital economy.

Hybrid working comes with great promises, including a better work-life balance, higher job satisfaction and motivation levels, access to a deeper pool of talent, and potential savings on office space. But organizations must invest time and resources in a strategy and policies that underpin the concept of hybrid working. Getting it wrong can result in hemorrhaging staff, productivity and profits.

Without understanding labor force developments and the gaps that exist together with the tools that may be missing, enterprises will lose their competitiveness in an increasingly tough economic climate.

Transforming the workplace

Although productivity remains a primary concern for organizations instigating hybrid working, other significant problems exist. These include creating parity between the office and remote experiences, enabling collaboration and providing a seamless user experience, and maintaining workplace culture. There are also country culture variations to overcome. In Japan, for example, the centralized office is seen as where work is done. It can also be complicated by having small living spaces, such as in Hong Kong.

That is why organizations must get the proper training and development on hybrid work practices alongside the latest technologies that fit with both processes and people. Part of this exercise is defining and clarifying the roles and responsibilities of hybrid workers. They could use that to coordinate their office time. A Microsoft survey found that in China, for example, 50% of respondents had organized their days in the office for face-to-face time with colleagues.

Hybrid working isn’t just for knowledge workers. Gartner maintains that it is time to find equitable flexibility for frontline workers in manufacturing and healthcare. According to its Frontline Worker Experience Reinvented survey, 58% of organizations employing frontline workers have invested in improving the employee experience in the last year.

Every enterprise is unique when it comes to flexible working. Microsoft says every organization needs a strategy that puts people at the core and encompasses policy, physical space and technology. Companies need to answer questions such as who must come into the office, when and why? How can people effectively collaborate? The office space must provide a robust bridge between the physical and digital worlds.

Grasp an exciting opportunity

There is one word that is essential to creating a successful hybrid workplace, and that is strategy. Think virtual first and ensure that employees are integral to the process as they will be using the tools. In addition, enterprises should not be afraid to adjust technologies and policies on the digital workspace journey to ensure best business and user outcomes. Nothing is unchangeable.

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Jan Howells

Jan has been writing about technology for over 22 years for magazines and web sites, including ComputerActive, IQ magazine and Signum. She has been a business correspondent on ComputerWorld in Sydney and covered the channel for Ziff-Davis in New York.